Cairo, Egypt, Jan 18, 2014 / 04:05 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- A Catholic Coptic bishop has said he “very strongly” encourages Christians to accept Egypt’s draft constitution for Egypt, voted on this week, citing the autonomy it grants to Christians, Muslims and Jews.
“If the constitution is really taken seriously then the situation of Christians in Egypt will improve considerably,” Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of the Coptic Eparchy of Assiut told Aid to the Church in Need Jan. 14. He said the new document is “without doubt an improvement on what applied under the Muslim Brotherhood.” The constitution was the subject of a referendum which took place Jan. 14-15. The Egyptian constitution had been under revision since December 2013. Representatives of Egypt’s churches, including Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Mina of Guizeh, were involved in the review process before the draft was submitted to interim president Adi Mansour for approval. Bishop William Samaan said the Christian community is very happy with the draft constitution, which has strong support from the Christian media. The bishop said the proposed constitution “guarantees Christians and Jews autonomy in matters regarding civil status and internal affairs.” It grants Muslims, Christians and Jews “the same right to build places of worship.” “I hope we Christians will then be free at last to build and renovate churches,” Bishop William Samaan said. The repair and construction of churches has been strictly regulated in Egypt. This has severely hindered the Christian population, which traces its roots back to the early years of Christian evangelization. The Coptic Catholic Church, which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome, has about 250,000 adherents, and is headed by the Cairo-based Patriarch of Alexandria. The two-day referendum on the new constitution took place Tuesday and Wednesday, with 37 percent of registered voters participating, the state-run Al Ahram newspaper has said. The newspaper projects a 90 percent “yes” vote for the draft constitution, though members of the Muslim Brotherhood are boycotting the election. About 400 people have been arrested for disrupting the vote and there have been some clashes between protesters and police, the BBC reports. The Egyptian military removed the Muslim Brotherhood-backed resident Mohammed Morsi from power in July 2013. Egypt has been politically unstable since the “Arab Spring” protests of 2011 deposed then-president Hosni Mubarak. A December 2012 constitutional referendum approved the previous constitution by a vote of 64 percent, with turnout of 33 percent. That election was boycotted by secular elements in Egyptian society.